I’ve mentioned before that I believe daily intermittent fasting can be fun. I’m sure people wonder how on earth going without food for most of the day, sipping on water while others around you are enjoying yummy food, or experiencing any kind of hunger can possibly be viewed as fun unless you have psychological issues. Well, if you’re a person who is introspective – a person who likes to explore the “why” of human behavior and your own behavior in particular – then fasting can indeed by quite a blast. Daily intermittent fasting provides many opportunities for such exploration and, I believe, for a lot of personal growth. Next to motherhood and marriage, intermittent fasting has taught me about myself (and quite a bit about others) more than any other life experience.
According to Dr. Bert Herring, each pound of the body’s stored fat provides enough fuel for more than 24 hours of an average day’s activities. That being the case, if we have a lot of fat to lose, less than 24 hours of daily fasting followed by a hearty meal is more than enough fuel for our bodies to function very well. Although biologically that’s the case, psychologically it’s been engrained in us that we need a lot more food and that skipping meals is somehow detrimental, particularly for fat loss. Those like me, who have learned that fasting is in fact healthy and conducive to weight loss, often start to explore other mental misconception that may have affected our eating habits. By doing so, we soon learn that fasting is 99% mental.
From day one of my fasting journey, I found myself exploring many “whys.” Almost a year ago, as I prepared to tackle my first day without breakfast or lunch, I was anxious, even afraid of the idea of fasting. I calmed myself down enough to ask myself why I had such strong emotions about going without food for a while. After all, if for any reason I couldn’t go through with a full day of fasting, there was always food and water readily available to me – something not everyone in the world can say. What was I afraid of? Luckily, I didn’t give in to the fear; and, almost a year later, I’m 50 lbs. lighter and the healthiest I’ve been in a very long time.
Since that time, I’ve conducted many social experiments that explore my feelings about food and appetite – both from a personal perspective and a broader social one. Yesterday I experienced another such example of the mental aspect of appetite. I normally break my fast at work at 5:00 PM with a small snack. In this case it was almonds. As I was about to eat, my co-worker began a conversation with me. I found myself anxious for the talk to be over so I could dive into my almonds. Of course, I could have eaten them in front of her, but I wanted to wait and enjoy the moment alone with my treat. In retrospect, the fact that I could wait until the conversation was over, lets me know that I couldn’t have been experiencing true hunger.
Still, as I found myself getting more and more anxious to eat, I struggled to pay attention to the conversation. But then I realized that there were a number of times I had delayed that break-fast snack or even skipped it entirely and been just fine. In that moment it was clear to me that, due to a more exact timing of breaking my fast, I had developed “clock hunger.” Much like Pavlov’s dog, I was hungry because psychologically I knew it was time to eat, not necessarily because of true hunger. So I tested myself. How long could I delay eating the almonds?
As it turns out, I delayed eating them through the talk with my co-worker, through the ride home, even through making a homemade pizza from scratch for my son, and then preparing salmon and broccoli for myself. I finally broke my fast at close to 8:00PM and still kept within my established schedule, closing my eating window at 10:00PM as usual and feeling just fine. So, yesterday, I learned about clock hunger and about how that affects my perceived appetite- just one of many lessons I’ve learned that will have a very positive effect on my appetite control and weight management in the long term.
Now, it’s your turn. Here are a few experiments for you that will likely help you explore the mental aspect of your eating habits. Give these a shot, and let me know how you do and what you learned.
Assignment 1: They say you can’t eat just one potato chip, but give it a try. Eat only one potato chip during a 24 hour period. Was it difficult? Did you think about having more? How did you stop yourself? Were you able to stop yourself?
Assignment 2: Right before you’re about to eat your next meal, when the plate is on the table, delay eating for five minutes without leaving the table. Were you able to look at the food, savor the aroma of it and appreciate it? Did you have to turn away from it and distract yourself until the time was up?
And for the over-achievers…
Assignment 3: Offer to have breakfast, lunch or dinner with someone but don’t consume any calories while they eat. Instead sip water, tea or black coffee as you enjoy their company. Did your guest ask why you weren’t eating. Did you tell them why? Were you uncomfortable? Were they uncomfortable? Overall, was it awkward? Was the awkwardness short-lived?
Before, during and after each of the exercises, take some time to explore the whys of whatever preconceptions, discomforts, beliefs or even fears you may be experiencing. What have you learned about yourself? Let me know. I’d love to hear about it.